When temperatures spike and humidity turns sidewalks, parking lots, and train stations into sweltering sweat boxes, the idea of wearing a suit — or anything suit-adjacent — to the office seems like a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Many offices wisely adjust their dress codes during this season, but a loosened set of rules can make it tricky to figure out what’s appropriate and what constitutes “taking it too far”.
In the Fairygodboss Community, one reader had some office dress-code questions about a summertime staple, the flip-flop:
“It's summer and flip-flops are back. I find them irritating — they distract my focus from work. I can't help but wonder if it's just my outdated thinking. Or perhaps my hearing which is exceptionally good. Flip-flops in the office: yea or nay?”
Items like flip-flops, shorts, and sleeveless tops make total sense in 85-degree weather, but how do you make them work for your client meetings or staff trainings? To answer this question, we pulled together some easy-to-follow guidelines for keeping your look polished and professional when the heat keeps rising.
1. If your office allows for business casual dress, stick with one-piece outfits like shirtdresses.
As business-casual offices grow in popularity across a wide range of industries, employees gain more and more flexibility in terms of their wardrobes, which is great news during the summertime. If your workplace allows you to eschew a traditional suit in favor of separates and dresses, you’ll be well-suited by opting for the latter. A lightweight dress feels less fussy than a coordinated top-and-bottom outfit, and by minimizing the amount of clothing items you’re piling on, you have a better shot at staying cool and comfortable throughout the workday. If you feel a lack of flair, dresses are easy to accessorize with bright accessories like necklaces, chic handbags, and colorful shoes.
2. Shorts and sleeveless blouses can be styled for work, as long as you follow a few guidelines.
In past generations, shorts and sleeveless tops at work counted as a major faux-pas, especially among more conservative employers and industries. These days, however, it’s perfectly acceptable to incorporate these items into a business-casual office wardrobe, as long as you keep an eye on styles and lengths.
When choosing shorts to wear to work, many of the same principles you’d use to pick pants still applies. Aim for classic cuts and elevated fabrics (chinos and crisp cottons are safe bets), and unless your workplace leans especially casual, avoid denim shorts. In terms of length, Hollywood stylist Hayley Atkin told InStyle that she “would recommend mid-thigh to the knee - anywhere in that range.”
Sleeveless and short-sleeved blouses can absolutely be worn to work in any but the most formal of office cultures. But it’s important to maintain discretion while selecting these items; if you work in any type of a white-collar industry, you’ll want to keep away from anything strapless, anything with spaghetti straps, and anything that qualifies as a halter top.
3. In a formal work culture where suits are non-negotiable, seek out breathable fabrics like cotton and linen.
More and more offices allow sartorial wiggle room when it’s hot outside, but there remain certain industries - like banking and corporate law - that require a formal level of dress at all times. Luckily, there are steps you can take to alleviate the inevitable sweat quotient that comes from traditional business suits. Finding an appropriate suit made out of a summer-weight fabric like linen or cotton isn’t a difficult task anymore, and if you pair this ensemble with a sleeveless silk or cotton blouse, you’ll end up with a manageable outfit for super-steamy days. Also, if you work for a conservative employer, it may be worth checking your employee manual (and, if there’s no clear answer there, asking HR) to see whether short-sleeved or three-quarter-sleeved suits are permissible.
4. Unless you work in an extremely casual environment, avoid flip-flops and go for a more structured sandal.
To address the initial question from our discussion board: in general, flip-flops should be avoided in professional contexts. Sure, certain creative fields will be fine with your beloved Havaianas or Adidas Adilettes, but for the most part, your thong sandals and pool slides shouldn’t enter the office. Of course, that’s not to say that sandals as a genre can’t be worn to work. Wedge sandals, open-toed mules, and even flat sandals made of an upmarket material like leather definitely fit a business-casual office dress code, so don’t hesitate to break them out.
5. Don’t forget to toss a cardigan or pashmina in your tote.
No matter how high the outside temperature rises, office workers know all-too-well that they’ll be subjected to frigid conditions within their work space, courtesy of overzealous air conditioning. This drastic climate discrepancy cause more than their fair share of summer colds, but a bit of advance planning can keep you comfortable and healthy throughout the season. Before heading to work, grab a lightweight knit cardigan or a pashmina to stow in your car or your bag. That way, you’ll be prepared if your office manager likes to keep things chilly.